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New Study Links Autism and Prenatal 'Flu and Fever

Far From Definitive

Autism is the elephant in the room. With around one in 88 children affected, and no single known cause, the developmental disorder has modern science stumped. The latest study has found a possible link between autism spectrum disorders and maternal 'flu or prolonged fever during pregnancy. 

Published in Pediatrics, research analyzed between 1997 and 2003 of nearly 97,000 children born in Denmark considered the infections reported by women during pregnancies, as well as antibiotic consumption.

Although common infections, such as "respiratory problems, colds and urinary tract infections," did not appear to increase the risk of autism in children, those with 'flu during their pregnancy were "twice as likely to be diagnosed with an ASD before they turned 3 years old." And for those mothers with a fever lasting a week or more, that risk tripled.

But according to an article in Huffington Post, previous studies of animals confirm that maternal infections in pregnancy seem to compromise development of the fetal brain. So even though the reasons are as yet unclear, the study suggested that antibiotic use during pregnancy led to a slightly higher risk of autism. 

"It's intriguing, it's suggestive, but it's still is very preliminary," Marshalyn Yeargin-Allsopp, chief of the developmental disabilities branch of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told the Huffington Post.

Expecting mothers should be cautioned about placing too much onus on the research, which is "far from definitive." 

According to Coleen Boyle, director of the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities with the CDC, women should take simple precautions, such as "[washing] their hands frequently to prevent infection, call their doctors right away if they have a fever or flu-like symptoms, and get a flu shot."

For more breaking stories about autism, be sure to check out the Toronto Star's Autism Project.

Do you think there is any merit to this study? If you are pregnant, will you get a flu shot?